Audeze LCD-XC Review

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by rhythmdevils, Jul 6, 2021.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Audeze LCD-XC Review
    (Including Comparisons to LCD-X and ZMF Eikon)


    [​IMG]

    Gear

    Pi2AES > Gungnir A1 > @Fallenangel SOHA1 > LCD-XC, LCD-X, ZMF Eikon

    Aesthetics
    I never include an aesthetics section in my reviews because I could generally care less. But Audeze has made what I consider a terrible decision with this headphone’s aesthetic design. There is no place for branding on a 1000$+ headphone. Does Audeze think their name is that cool to warrant plastering it in huge bright white letters on the side of the cups? It looks God awful and would make me feel embarrassed wearing them. This is the aesthetic of 100$ headphones for teenagers. Not incredibly expensive tools for sonic reproduction. The cups should be plain black, letting the fiber glass material show plain and clean. Even the fake fiber glass finish is a bit much. I’d prefer plain black matte plastic.

    Build
    Sold as hell, as all Audeze headphones are. I feel like I could definitely bludgeon someone with these and then keep listening to music.

    Comfort
    Audeze’s new pads sound great, but they are too shallow for the Fazors an my big ears. My ears touch the faros and it’s uncomfortable. I imagine Audeze has done their homework here and most people won’t have an issue but if I owned these I would have to remove the fazors.

    Sound

    In Brief

    Say goodby to the “Audeze veil”! A slightly bright Audeze!

    The LCD-XC is much much better than I ever imagined it would be. I consider Audeze’s drivers the best planar magnetic headphone drivers ever made (I’ve heard them all, and I’ve modded Audeze headphones and heard the drivers with what I consider better acoustic treatment), but I don’t think they have figured out how to put them Ito an enclosure and implement acoustic treatments that allow them to really shine. They do much better here than I anticipated. I thought the LCD-XC would be a resonant mess. It’s actually pretty well controlled. Though not perfect.

    Good
    The general sound signature is very neutral but slightly on the bright forward side (I know you will all be surprised by this). They are extremely resolving of low level information, actually more resolving than the LCD-X but I will explore why later. They’re very well balanced from bass to midrange to treble, with nothing sticking out in any glaring terrible way. There are no sharp FR peaks or resonant peaks whatsoever. Bass is a bit light, but tight, controlled and has endless extension. Soundstage is surprisingly good for a closed back headphone.

    Bad
    They don’t have perfect control over the closed cup resonance however. I expect to see pretty clean CSD’s with no sharp resonance, but some little hills of lingering sound waves not being absorbed in the closed cups. They have a mild etched tone in the vocal range and the treble that makes them sound a bit aggressive and which messes up timbre. Instruments don’t sound quite right in the vocal or treble range. The treble also seems to lack extension and air. This isn’t terrible especially in the grand scheme of things. I wouldn’t call this nit picking, I think most people would hear this, but it’s better than a lot of closed headphones and there is a lot to love about this headphone. The very well balanced though slightly aggressive FR and resolving ability for example.

    Bass
    Pretty great. It’s just on the light side. Not bloated, farty and airy like the LCD-2 Classic. Not exaggerated. Just south of neutral, but with absolute control and very resolving. I would just like more of it basically. It leaves the headphones with a slight lack of proper foundation. Extension, punch, speed, resolution are all there though. It’s good quality bass.

    Midrange
    Very neutral, not recessed. Vocals are at their foundation gorgeous. Male vocals have decent weight but could use a bit more for proper tonality. Female vocals have proper air. There’s tons of resolution here. The balance with the bass and treble is really perfect. However, there is a sharp, etched timbre to vocals that is very unfortunate. It’s not there on the LCD-X and and I really want to open them up and fix it. But I can’t until someone buys one and sends them to me to mod ;) The upper mids stick out a bit too. They aren’t harsh, but they are north of neutral and just a bit sharp. There’s also a slight “cupped hands” quality to vocals from untamed cup resonance.

    If I had to sum up the vocal presentation I would say it’s well balanced, very resolving, but feels tipped up a bit, a bit lean, and a bit etched and echoey. I really want to pull the vocals down in tone and clean them up. It’s so hard not opening these headphones up.

    Vocals by Leonard Cohen should have more richness and weight than they do. But it’s not terrible by any means.

    Female vocals are a bit aggressive and stick out in the higher parts of the vocal range and make me cringe a bit and make me want to turn down the volume or take the headphones off.

    Treble
    Pretty neutral erring on slightly bright in the lower treble, but I I’m speaking less picky, it’s generally not exaggerated. Good timbre for the most part. Cymbals sound like cymbals, they sound metallic, not plastic-y or papery at all. There’s not a lot of “sparkle” or air though. And there’s an etched timbre here as well, possibly a little peak or bump in the FR or a resonant spot. It makes what should be smooth resolving treble feel a bit aggressive and uncomfortable to me. The treble is pretty good though, Reckoning by Radiohead sounds pretty correct so it’s not off by that much.

    Ortho Acoustics Suspicions
    Sealed, closed back cups spell death for planar magnetic drivers. Planar magnetic drivers move equally in both directions forward and backward. So putting a sealed cup behind the driver is not the same as with an electrodynamic. I am assuming the LCD-XC has a sealed cup behind the diver. There are no visible vents. There’s a reason for those vents on the T50rp cups and Smeggy’s old Thunderpants.

    Think of the diaphragm moving equally in both directions, forward to create the sound you hear, but also backwards. This is what makes acoustic implementation so complex with orthos. When the diaphragm moves backwards, it creates a pressure wave just like it does when it moves forward. This forward pressure wave is what you hear as sound and your brain interprets as music. But it has to move backwards in equal measure. Excursion goes both ways. If there is an airtight sealed chamber behind the driver, it stops the diaphragm from creating the backward pressure wave it needs to create to move the diaphragm to fully replicate the signal because it is pushing up against the air in the cup which has no where to go.

    The affect this has on an ortho driver is damping the driver very hard, making it move faster, and have less excursion because it physically can’t move enough to create proper bass.

    I’m guessing this is why the LCD-XC is bass lite. And it could explain the aggressive nature too and why the LCD-XC sounds more resolving than the LCD-X. Because the driver is damped harderr - too hard. I suspect even just a small hole in the cup would completely change the sound, giving it full bass response and a more natural tone. I will be experimenting with this as soon as someone sends me an LCD-XC to mod (I have plans with someone but am open to anyone else if interested).

    Comparisons

    Audeze LCD-XC vs LCD-X

    The LCD-X is instantly my favorite of the 3 compared here. It combines natural tonality and neutral FR with more resolution and bass quantity and control than the Eikons. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. The XC somehow sounds a bit more resolving. I’m not sure if this is the famed unit to unit variation and this XC was cherry picked for our loaner tour (the X is mine) or if it’s the tipped up FR making it sound that way, or a more heavily damped driver as explained above due to the closed back cups (I’m guessing it’s the closed back cups0. I’m on test track one still and this is the headphone I want to keep listening to.

    Soundstage is probably equal to the Eikons in size but much more precise imaging, localization and space between notes.

    Soundstage is interestingly pretty equal between the LCD-X and LCD-XC. This isn’t a huge surprise to me after working with the T50rp. Orthos don’t need to be open back to have a sense of soundstage. But I think the LCD-X should have better soundstage than it does. It sounds like a closed back ortho, especially when compared to the much more open sounding Hifiman HE6se (the only thing that headphone does better)

    The etched timbre of the XC is completely gone. Notes have very good timbre though since I have a modded pair here I know this drier is capable of sounding less dull. It’s mostly the material used in the stock pads, which really kills resolution as explained in my thread about them. If it’s replaced with pantyhose material, resolution increases dramatically but it screws up the FR so they need new pads for this to work.

    The X has more bass but of equal quality to the XC. The X sounds very neutral to me while the XC sounds bass lite.

    Treble is more recessed than the XC. It’s south of neutral, recessed and a bit dull but nowhere near the Eikons. It lacks shimmer and air. This is probably the dust material as well.

    Vocals are gorgeous. Very neutral, no recession, no etched timbre. Smooth, with great weight to male vocals and notes and good air to female vocals with none of the shrill upper mods of the XC

    Upper mods sound about right to me, neither recessed or emphasized. The guitar solo in one of my test tracks for upper midrange emphasis is just a tiny bit sharper than it should be but has no extra glare or harshness which it easily can. My other upper midrange test tracks are the same. Just prickly enough as they should be (they’re all borderline tracks) but no extra harshness or glare or resonance.

    The choice here is obvious. The LCD-X is by far the superior headphone. I could live with the stock LCD-X and it’s the only ortho I’ve ever felt that way about. I would be a little annoyed by the dullness but that may just be because I know what this driver is capable of. The treble also is unfortunately recessed but has just enough presence to be enjoyable.


    Audeze LCD-XC vs ZMF Eikons

    The first thing you notice when switching from the LCD-X to the Eikons is a loss of resolution.

    The next thing you notice is the loss of the etched tonality and a more natural tonal balance. I’m pretty impressed by the Eikons and I hate electrodynamics. They’re very well controlled with nothing sticking out, no resonance that I can hear and they are fairly neutral-ish. Maybe balanced is a better word beauties they deviate from true neutral in several areas.

    Vocals are back in the mix, I would actually call them recessed, the LCD-XC has more neutral vocals.

    Treble is dull and recessed on the Eikons and seriously lacks extension and “sparkle”. They don’t have bad timbre, it’s just so dull. Cymbals have absolutely no shimmer, and many songs that should have some cymbal work or sparkle up top you can’t hear it at all.

    One of my test tracks, at the beginning of the song is simple but beautifully recorded acoustic guitar. There should be some treble shimmer to the striking of the chords, but with the Eikons it’s very dull, you only hear the body of the sound of the strings but not the shimmer.

    Bass is boring as hell. They’re quite bass lite and lack control. Bass feels soft and squishy. It does extend all the way down but sounds like it’s struggling. The LCD-X bass has way more control, detail, slam, realism, etc.

    Soundstage is a bit bigger on the Eikons. It’s spaced out more, but I think the LCD-XC has better imaging and separation between notes. The Eikons are more diffused.

    So the Eikons have more controlled resonance/driver artifacts, and more natural timbre, but the LCD-XC is much more resolving, has better treble presence, is more neutral albeit having likely a few peaks or resonant spots, has better bass control. If I had to pick one I’m not sure what I would go with they seem about equally flawed to me in opposite directions. But since I know I could mod the LCD-XC and make them sound awesome I would pick them ;) For you it would come down to living with the sins of omission of the Eikons or the sins of commission of the LCD-XC. And how important resolution is to you. The LCD-XC sounds twice as resolving to me (to be annoying and put inaccurate numbers to it)


    Final Thoughts.

    We have the LCD-XC that is slightly bright and etched and bass lite, the Eikon which is dull, lacks resolution, has recessed mids and is has very recessed rolled off treble, and then the LCD-X which strikes a close to perfect balance though is not perfect by any means. The LCD-X is the clear winer but it’s also open back. This may seem like it means it’s not a fair comparison but I know from modding the T50rp that closed back is not a hindrance for orthos. So it’s no excuse for the LCD-XC’s shortcomings. It needs better resonance control and possibly some vents to increase bass quantity. Though that would make it less isolating.
     
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  2. Marvey

    Marvey Super Friend

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    So no weird midrange honk of the XC of long ago? I don't mind slightly forward and neutral bass. I do wish that Audeze didn't slap the big AUDEZE in letters on the cup! Their look is already distinctive and applying big letters with a crappy looking typeface seems gaudy. I think it's a younger millennial / zoomer thing. They are like the idiots who have fake SUPREME gear with SUPREME written all over it. The winners with real SUPREME gear, you don't even know who they are.

    Also, do you think we can obtain a perma-loaner from Audeze of one of their base headphones. I am thinking LCD-2 or LCD-X. I plan on doing future amp measurements using real headphones as loads. The problem is that I can only select a three or four to be standards. I would like Audeze to be represented as one of them because they are good references. Everybody knows how they sound, a lot of people have them, and they are good.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2021
  3. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Gosh, "weird midrange honk" was the exact descriptor Marv used when I was struggling to convey the unnatural mids on Changstar. In addition, I recall buying this on release and using it on my Gungnir A1 (it was D/S at that time) and the Mojo OG. There was literally a very low level of volume across the FR that was coming out of the headphones before three days of continuous use opened up the headphone to the usual volume levels. @rhythmdevils, I trust you did not have a similar experience on this one.
     
  4. StandUp713

    StandUp713 Facebook Friend

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    Do the new pads from Audeze come with a new adhesive strip, or do we have to make our own?
     
  5. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I wouldn't use the word honk, no it's not that serious. I believe they have probably revised them multiple times since then. The mids sound natural but with minorr problems layered over the top. An etch was the best word I came up with, and also a minor cupped hands sound. I'll listen to them again and report back though with a better description.

    No, not at all. They sound solid from the get go. Audeze is constantly trying to improve their headphones. I think the LCD-X and LCD-XC models are dependable at this point. I bought two pairs of LCD-X and they sound the same. (both to mod, one fo rme and one for a loaner and measurements)

    Yes, the new pads come with the identical adhesive strip with the same felt ring between the adhesive and the pads. No need for your own adhesive strip.
     
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  6. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Could I wait to ask them? I've gotten on good terms with them and they're planning to sand us a bunch of headphones for loaner tours. I don't want to over ask. But I'm happy to ask whenever you need this.
     
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  7. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Audeze read my review and told me that the cups are vented. I'll have to examine them to try to figure out how. So maybe they just need more venting, or different damping. Or the problems I described in the review could be caused by cup resonance. I'll only be ale to figure it out by taking one apart and seeing what they're doing inside. I'm sure they're using fazors on the bak of the the driver- they're obsessed witht the fazors. Which means there must be a lot of empty space inside the cups which could point to resonance being an issue .
     
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  8. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Here is a picture showing the difference between the stock dust material on the new stock pads vs a pair of new pads that I replaced with pantyhose material which is far more acoustically transparent while still protecting the drivers. Resolution is greatly improved with the pantyhose material.

    Unfortunately I do not recommend making this change without other modifications to the headphones because it also increases the upper mids and treble which would be very bad for the stock LCD-XC

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I’ve listened to the LCD-XC more and there is definitely no honk in the midrange. It’s fundamentally very natural, it’s just sharp and etched in the midrange to treble like I described before and lacks body and weight in the lowered midrange. Some recordings sound natural and others have a spot that sticks out and is uncomfortable. I personally can’t stand it.

    Treble also lacks extension and refinement.

    But I actually think a lot of people will like this. It gives them a bit of bite and a slightly aggressive signature with tons of resolution. I think the biggest thing the typical listener will be bothered by is the lack of bass quantity (quality is very good). The bass lite signature really doesn’t help with the sharp/etched bumps in FR in the midrange to treble. If they had more bass it could help hide it and cover it up.
     
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  10. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    LCD-XC Loaner Impressions

    For many songs I found these quickly fatiguing and needed to keep my listening time minimal. Something that surprised me, I found them more fatiguing with the Stratus than the Black Widow so I didn't use the Stratus. Compared with Autuer (teak, suede pads) since I usually like them with the Black Widow.

    Chain
    Pi2AES -> Pavane -> Freya S -> Black Widow

    XC
    • When they fatigued me it was really fast, generally within 2 minutes or less. Sometimes busier music wasn't an issue but I didn't determine a definitive pattern for fatigue vs not. For example Temptation Waits (Garbage) was fine but Run-Around (Blues Traveler) quickly hurt. Often when they sounded good they also fatigued faster.
    • Really nice clarity, very crisp
    • For some songs tone feels lacking and flat
    • Bass light
    • Heavy
    • Mids sometimes seemed off, wasn't sure if this was tonal or something else
    • Sometimes heard greater resolution
    Auteur
    • Richer tone
    • Bass light (those suede pads)
    • Heavy (not quite as much)
    • Balance usually more to my liking, the presentation felt more "right"
    Final Thoughts
    It was hard at times to evaluate, I couldn't get far with a bunch of music. But the times when they didn't fill me with pain and sounded good, they have some great qualities.Sometimes minor details or the lovely crispness of voices/instruments grabbed my attention in a good way. I imagine with some tweaks I could like these a lot and plan on trying the LCD-X at some point.
     
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